Supreme Court says Mumia death sentence is unconstitutional

Political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal won a reprieve this week when the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal by Philadelphia prosecutors of a lower court ruling that an earlier death penalty sentence was unconstitutional. The journalist and author is on death row in Pennsylvania.

In April, a Philadelphia federal appeals court reaffirmed a prior decision that improper sentencing instructions occured when jurers were not told to consider mitigating circumstances when consideirng setencing. The city’s district attorney then appealed to the high court.

Four judges have ruled that the sentencing instructions were flawed.

Philadelphia prosecutors now have a choice of holding a new sentencing hearing or allowing the former Black Panther to serve a life sentence without parole.

Mumia Abu Jamal was convicted of the 1981 shooting of police officer Mark Faulker.  In the most recent appeal he was represented by Attorney Judith Ritter and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The president of the fund John Payton in a statement said, “At long last, the profoundly troubling prospect of Mr. Abu-Jamal facing an execution that was produced by an unfair and unreliable penalty phase has been eliminated.

Attorney Ritter stated, “Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law.”

According to news reports Philadelphia prosecutors did not comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling. The court’s decision leaves open the possibility the district attorney may once again seek the death penalty.

A worldwide campaign has called for Mumia Abu Jamal’s release and sought to prevent the death sentence.

The appeal over the sentencing instructions have lasted 30 years.  The campaign to end the death penalty in the U.S. has reached a new stage recently as a result of the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.


Photo: Creative Commons 2.0


Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.